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Shawnee City Council advances proposed shopping center over neighbors’ objections

The planned Shawnee Landing shopping center got smaller and its estimated cost got larger in the six weeks since it was last before the Shawnee City Council. But the impassioned objections from nearby residents on Bell Road stayed the same at the public hearing Monday night, as the council moved the development forward another step.

The council took a major step toward approving $10.9 million in public financing for the development on 26 acres at the southwest corner of Shawnee Mission Parkway and Maurer Road, after hearing objections from Bell Road residents on numerous points. The residents have opposed the development because the sewer that will serve it will run through their neighborhood, tearing out hundreds of trees. Two of them have filed a lawsuit in district court appealing the county’s decision to allow the sewer line.

Don Lysaught, a homeowner on Bell Road, was escorted from the podium by two police officers after repeatedly ignoring Mayor Jeff Meyers’ assertion that his speaking time was up. “I don’t think 15 minutes is a great deal of time when you’re talking about destroying our neighborhood,” he said.

The council will consider a special transportation development taxing district for streets and utilities in February.

Developer SMPW Fund I presented new numbers to the council on the square footage of the development and the cost of the project. When the plan was last before the city Nov. 10, it was for 185,000 square feet, including a 50,000-square-foot anchor tenant and 35,000 square feet for seven pad sites. Now the project is a total of 177,700 square feet, but the anchor tenant’s size will be the same.

At the same time, the cost has increased. When it was last considered, Shawnee Landing was a $49.3 million project with $11.9 million coming from public financing. Now it is projected to be $56 million with $15.4 million in city participation.

Of that, $10.9 million would come from future expected gains in property and sales tax and $4.5 million would come from a proposed half-cent sales tax for infrastructure.

Curt Petersen, a lawyer for the developer, explained that the increases were necessary because of the work needed to prepare for building on the difficult terrain.

The city also has taken the unusual step of agreeing to pay a percentage of the cost of building the sewer. That amount is estimated at $115,000.

After the public hearing opened, Bell Road residents assailed almost every aspect of the plan. A few mentioned the increasing cost in the project and questioned why the city would be willing to promise so much taxpayer money without knowing what businesses will be in the center.

Joni Johnson-Godsy mentioned several Kansas City shopping malls that have failed and said the whole idea may be based on a faulty business model. Shopping malls are becoming obsolete, she said.

“The future of shopping is not the strip mall,” she said. “The future of shopping is the Internet.”

Richard Travers of Bell Road criticized aspects of the development he and other residents said would become a neighborhood eyesore.

“We will build a retaining wall that is 55 feet high — fifteen feet higher than the great wall of Ikea,” he said. “We will have noise and lights that will be a constant irritant, right next to us. What I see in this development is that tax revenue to our city will decline over the next 30 years and the residents to the south will suffer a decline in property values as a consequence of this development. The question I’d ask is, what’s in it for us, the neighbors?”

Others questioned the criteria the city used to declare the “conservation area” needed to legally establish the special taxing district. A conservation area is an alternative to a “blighted” area, but uses some similar standards.

The city listed some deteriorating buildings and sheds in the area, inadequate utilities and the fact that the houses were older than 35 years. But Chris Magerkurth questioned the accuracy of that information and said the documentation the city provided didn’t back it up.

Two people commented in favor of the development. Justin Nichols said it would provide the retail that residents want for Shawnee. “This is something we can do to make the city better,” he said.

Peter Knipper added that more restaurants and shopping will improve the whole city and, hopefully, keep property tax rates down. “I would not like to see us be a drive-by city,” he said.

Council member Jeff Vaught took issue with the idea that shopping centers are becoming obsolete, pointing out that Amazon is building stores to display the products it sells online.

The council advanced the project on a voice vote, with member Mike Kemmling the only dissenter.

Other action

In other business, the council voted to extend for two years its excise tax abatement program. Excise tax is charged when a parcel of land is platted for development.

Shawnee instituted a program in 2013 that would allow the property owner to skip the tax as long as development milestones are met. Since then, council members have said the program has been a success in encouraging development and bringing more property tax value and jobs.

The abatement program was due to expire in March 2015, but council members took it up Monday because developers had been asking. The council debated briefly about whether to extend the program for two years, 10 years, or do away with excise tax altogether, eventually settling on the two-year extension.

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